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Our blog aims to present opinion-based pieces from our network. We want to hear what you’re doing in prisons or community settings – whether this is an arts intervention, research or perhaps a question or problem you have been facing or a good practice example you would like to highlight. Email info@artsincriminaljustice.org.uk if you have a proposal for a blog post.

Liz and David’s mentoring story

Whilst applications come in for the 2022 scheme, we talked to mentor Liz, a theatre practitioner, and her mentee David, a prison officer, about what they got out of the scheme.

Making It Up: parents in prison connecting through stories

Give a Book workshop leader David Kendall joins us in this guest blog to share the importance of storytelling and how, over lockdown, the project has been keeping prisoners connected with their families. The Making It Up project from reading charity Give a Book supports parents in prison to bond with their children by creating [...]

The 2021 Creativity in Youth Justice Symposium

Bridging the gap in creativity and youth justice Having delivered arts activity in youth justice settings for over a decade, Xavier Fiddes has seen the sector go from strength to strength. Now Co-Director of In Focus Education & Development CiC, he’s building on his experiences to launch the Creativity in Youth Justice Symposium in March [...]

Adapting group music sessions for lockdown at HMP Pentonville

In normal times, the occupational therapy team at HMP Pentonville run a comprehensive group work service, including a wide range of arts activities – but Covid-19 has meant having to rethink everything. Lead Occupational Therapist and Wellbeing Centre Manager Deborah Murphy has written this guest blog on how adapting their activities for lockdown has created […]

Scoping arts in criminal justice across Buckinghamshire

In October 2019, the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA) embarked on a year-long local practice development project to scope arts in criminal justice settings in Buckinghamshire. Funded by the Rothschild Foundation, the project’s long-term aim is to inform sustainable models of delivery for quality arts in criminal justice across Buckinghamshire, and to support the […]

Creative writing at HMP Guys Marsh

Ella Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Bath Spa University, writes about her experience coordinating a creative writing course last year at HMP Guys Marsh. She shares an extract from the resulting anthology ‘Chrysalis Chronicles’, written by Kam, one of the men taking part. They said it couldn’t be done. One prison, twelve weeks, five [...]

Continuing collaboration during the Covid-19 crisis

Alison Frater, Chair of the NCJAA, reflects on her conversations with arts practitioners and prison staff, and what their responses to the crisis tell us about the critical value of arts and culture for criminal justice settings in this moment. In recent weeks, I’ve been talking to artists and arts organisations who work with people […]

How the current Covid-19 crisis is impacting arts in criminal justice

In this blog, National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA) Director Jessica Plant reflects on how the current Covid-19 crisis is affecting our network, the impact on arts in criminal justice settings, and what the NCJAA is doing to help. It has been nearly two weeks since the country went into lockdown to fight the spread […]

Releasing your mind from prison

Listen to Dawn Harrison’s episode of the Crime and Consequence podcast: ‘Releasing your mind from prison’. Dawn Harrison is a Senior Interventions Coordinator for Changing Lives, a charity in the North-East of England. Her creative thinking in the fields of arts, culture and heritage underpins her work in the field of criminal justice. In the […]

Why we need more black artists working in prisons

In this blog, Daniel Anderson talks about how the arts saved his life and how he thinks it can improve the lives of other black people in contact with the criminal justice system. Drama, theatre and film. Where would I be without you? Prison? Dead? Masked rage, stress. An identity crisis and racism. I was […]

Gareth Malone’s The Choir at Aylesbury – how far we have come

Jessica Plant, Director of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, reflects on the impact of Gareth Malone’s work at HMYOI Aylesbury and pays tribute to the hard work of pioneering arts organisations that have quietly driven change behind the scenes for over 30 years. I have had the pleasure and privilege of managing the National […]

Stories of the incarcerated – learning from the USA

Dr Lorraine Gamman, Director of the Design Against Crime Research Centre at University of the Arts London, reviews two works of art from the USA that tell stories of people in the criminal justice system. Voices of the incarcerated ‘The Writing on the Wall’ is an installation that aims raise awareness about incarceration across the […]

Man Up and talk

In this blog post, No Place Production’s John Burns writes about his theatre company’s new prison project, ‘Man Up’ (not to be confused with Safe Ground’s excellent programme of the same name). He explores co-production, difficult conversations, and why he thinks – from personal experience – that encouraging men to talk is key to improving […]

John and Daisy’s mentoring story

The National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance’s (NCJAA) professional mentoring scheme provides opportunities for early career arts in criminal justice practitioners to get support and guidance from experts within the field. Mentors are also offered professional development opportunities, including at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Last year, mentee Daisy Lees, Director of Arts La’Olam, […]

My role as Development Officer – one year on

This summer marked the end of my first year at the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA) as the new Development Officer. Whilst I have spent the majority of my life working in the arts, the criminal justice system (CJS) was very new to me, and wow, have I learnt a great deal in this […]

How you can give a boost to arts in criminal justice

Arts Council England is consulting on the final draft of its 10-year strategy. This blog by Will Downs, Clinks’ Policy Officer, sets out the key aspects of the strategy and how Clinks and the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance are going to respond. It also looks at how people and organisations can respond to the […]

Four months in, how are arts organisations finding the new prison education commissioning tool?

Our director, Jessica Plant, shares what we have heard from those using the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) and reflects on what the new commissioning process might mean for arts delivery in prison education. It’s now been over four months since the new Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) went live for bids via the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) […]

Hear her: women’s voices through poetry

Last month National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance chair, Alison Frater, attended the launch of a new London centre for women who have been through the criminal justice system or experienced violence. Here, she shares some of the poems and stories she heard from the women using it. The event Hear Her: Women’s Voices Through Poetry […]

Young people in the criminal justice system – how can the arts respond?

First Class Legacy’s Nathan Dennis shares his highlights from the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance annual conference 2019. It’s amazing what happens when you take the time out to stop, reflect, breathe in and breathe out. What a brilliant event at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre with the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance – a powerful day […]

Macbeth in HMP Gartree

Rowan MacKenzie reflects on the process of rehearsing and performing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a prison and what it may mean for the nine men involved. I began as a volunteer at HMP Gartree in early 2018. Trying to establish a group of men to work on rehearsing and performing Macbeth was initially […]

University and prison partnerships: how film allowed women to be authors of their own representation

Lindsay Morgan (Edinburgh Napier University’s Arts and Creative Industries Placement Officer), talks about the placement programmes run at HMP Edinburgh and HMP Polmont. She shares the latest outcome of the creative partnership, On the Outside, a film made in collaboration with four women who previously served sentences at HMP Polmont. Edinburgh Napier University has a […]

Penned Up at HMP Downview

Written as an address to himself, in this blog David Kendall reflects on how he measures the success of a two week arts and literature festival at HMP Downview. Penned Up is created with and for those in prison. Its two directors, Mark Hewitt and David Kendall, work with each prison to form a committee […]

Learning through laughter – an interview with Keith Palmer, director of The Comedy School

The Comedy School has offered high quality arts experiences for people within and outside of the criminal justice system for 20 years and is the only the only organisation of its kind in England led by a black person. It aims to raise the profile of the various uses of comedy, from stimulating personal creativity to […]

Reflections on art and violence

The National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA) is part of the Monument Fellowship. Every year the Fellowship produces a themed body of work that relates to criminal justice. This year the Fellowship is asking: How do we create a less violent society? In June 2018, on behalf of the NCJAA, Odd Arts’ Jo Lane attended […]

Shakespeare leading the way in tackling youth crime

I am now in the second month of my post as Development Officer for the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA). My work history is richly filled with experiences of arts education, training and using theatre for positive social change but, being new to this role, it is important that I become equally knowledgeable of […]

Art for a social purpose: Art for All

On a baking sunlit July Friday, 50 people met in the beautiful gardens of Watts Gallery Artists’ Village to discuss the work of museums and galleries in prisons. The talking inevitably cantered over territory that questioned how the restrained and reverential nature of many museums and galleries could be relevant to the lives of people […]

Not So Broken Dreams

For eight lunch time shows in August men from HMP Springhill will be performing their play Broken Dreams at The Royal Court Theatre, London in collaboration with Kestrel Theatre Company. This is their story, a story about fatherhood, grief and social justice, shaped and written with award winning writer Simon Longman, and directed by Holly […]

Key Change

Following our blog post in October, we are delighted to share with you Open Clasp‘s critically-acclaimed ‘Key Change’, screening here until 10 December to mark the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. Devised with women in HMP Low Newton, UK and originally toured to male prisons, Key Change is a raw and illuminating […]

Hidden from praise

Arts enable people to experience creativity in a way that transforms lives; even a single performance can change your life forever. At a conference organised by North East Prisoner Family Support (NEPACS), an organisation that seeks to enable positive futures for prisoners and their families in the north east of England by providing practical and emotional […]

MakeRight bags – changing lives by design

MakeRight is a collection of anti-theft bags designed by participants of a project at HMP Thameside, London and HMP Kilmarnock, near Glasgow. The collection takes its name from the MakeRight Design Academy, a design education initiative led by the Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Starting as […]

Changing Tunes: responding to a changing landscape

On 12th July, Clinks launched their annual State of the Sector report for 2017. Every year, Clinks surveys voluntary sector organisations working in the criminal justice system to collect information about how healthy the sector is, the role it is playing, and the wellbeing of service users. This year the report found that organisations have […]

Collaboration makes a bigger noise: women, theatre and criminal justice

This blog post sees Chair of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA), Alison Frater, reflect on an event that focused on women in the criminal justice system organised by NCJAA member Clean Break.  “On Monday 5th June, Clean Break and Queen Mary University of London co-hosted a unique and fascinating seminar exploring theatre for […]

Learning from experience: the impact of the NCJAA’s professional mentoring scheme

Marnie Forbes-Eldridge is the Associate Director of Prime Theatre. In 2016, she applied to be a mentee as part of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance’s professional mentoring scheme. In this blog post, she shares the impact that being part of the scheme had on her – both in a professional and personal sense. Based […]

The Monkey: a Synergy Theatre Production at Theatre 503

On Wednesday 15th March, National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance Communications Officer Kate Davey went to see Synergy Theatre Project’s production of The Monkey at Theatre503. In this blog post, she reflects on the play and how it might resonate with people with experience of the criminal justice system. “The Monkey is part of Synergy Theatre […]

A new narrative

In this blog, Chair of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA) Alison Frater, looks back at this year’s Annual Meeting, which took place at the National Theatre in London on 1st March. In the post, she reflects on the readings by four inspiring authors who have had direct experience of the criminal justice system, […]

Shutter stories: prison life behind the lens

In this blog post, Chair of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, Alison Frater, talks about our 2016 Anne Peaker lecture. The event took place in December last year, with a focus on the use of photography and film in prison settings. Artist Edmund Clark gave the key note speech, which was followed by a […]

Open Clasp performance of Key Change at the Houses of Parliament

In this blog post, Chair of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance Alison Frater talks about a collaborative event at the Houses of Parliament on 25th October. The event, hosted by the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance and held in conjunction with Clinks, the Prison Reform Trust and Agenda: Alliance for Women and Girls at […]

Prison arts in Scotland – by Kate Davey

On 11th May, I travelled to Glasgow in preparation for the Scottish Prison Arts Network (SPAN): Skill Share Session and Glasgow Museums: Insight Café, which were taking place the following day. On the 11th itself I visited Citizens Theatre, the principal producing theatre in the west of Scotland. Additionally, the theatre has a fantastic learning department which is committed to enhancing the lives of all kinds of people in Glasgow and beyond.

Singing the same tune: arts in criminal justice settings championed across government departments – By Alison Frater and Jessica Plant

Unlocking Potential – a review of education in prison, the much-anticipated report by Dame Sally Coates, was published on Wednesday 18th May as a prelude to the Queen’s speech, which announced new freedoms for prison governors to reform jails in England.

Reaching out with art from death row in San Quentin, California – By Nicola White

“Art is the journey of a free soul”
Alev Oguz, Turkish Artist

The aim of the Art Reach project is to give men on death row in the United States the opportunity to express themselves with their own art, something all human beings should be free to do.

Diversity, arts and criminal justice: Bringing people together – by Alison Frater

Increasing diversity, increasing artistic excellence. At the National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice (NAACJ) event ‘Diversity, arts and criminal justice: bringing people together,’ delegates started with the outcome: diversity increases the value of arts. Diversity brings texture, richness, vibrancy and meaning. Widening participation can contribute towards offsetting bias, ending intolerance, and increasing audience size.

Anthony Navarro, Drifting Memories. Image courtesy of Nicola White, Art of San Quentin